Anthony B is a junior golfer with Autism, Dyspraxia, Hypermobility and other related issues. He lives in the UK and was the subject of an article we wrote a couple of years ago: Autism and Sports – Interview with a Junior Golfer with Autism plus Insights and Inspiration from his Coach.
In this article we talked about how golf is a great game for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) kids, how Anthony approaches his game, and the support he gets from his parents. We also interviewed his Coach who talked about how to approach coaching an ASD child and how he encourages parents to introduce their ASD child to golf.
We thought we would check in again with Anthony and see how he continues to work on his golfing dreams and fit into the junior golf circuit while still battling his hidden disabilities. We enjoyed hearing all he has been up to and are grateful that he and his family are so open to sharing their trials and triumphs in the hope of inspiring and supporting other ASD junior golfers around the world.
The year after Anthony was first featured by us turned into rather a break-out year for him.
He made his 2nd hole-in-one and had some good wins playing for his Belfry Club Junior Team. He was the recipient of the Hero’s Handshake award by England Golf. The award recognizes young people in golf who show commitment and dedication to the game and who help support others by promoting a positive image of the sport.
Through his appointed Junior Ambassador role in promoting golf for people with disabilities he has enjoyed meeting celebrities including Ronan Keating, Kenny Dalglish and the Harry Potter brothers. He attended the Golf Foundation Annual Awards Ceremony and was thrilled to meet Ian Pouter. He has also caught the eye of Fatplate Golf who awarded him with a Putt Plate and Fatplate to help with his golf practice, and Bunker Mentality Brand who kit him out in their super stylish golf clothes!
Of course, he and his father are quick to point out, none of this is easy for Anthony either physically or mentally. Yet his ambition and support from the community gave him the courage to push through his fear of tripping over his words to make a presentation in front of the England Golf Board as a shortlisted candidate for England Golf Ambassador.
He works hard, despite the fatigue that often plagues him, and landed a spot on the U14 Warwickshire 2020 junior squad.
Two of the most difficult aspects of his autism that Anthony struggles with are communication and processing issues. From a school and homework perspective it can sometimes take up to 14 hours to learn 12 lines of homework text. From a golfing perspective Anthony says that: I really underestimated how much my learning, understanding and processing issues would hinder my golf progress.
Challenges in Competition and Helpful Tips for ASD Junior Golfers
For junior golfers with hidden disabilities like autism, dyspraxia, hyper-mobility and related issues, there are three main challenges playing competitive junior tournaments: Communication, Scoring and Course Management.
It’s important for junior golfers playing together to feel comfortable to carry on a conversation together. This is particularly difficult for juniors on the spectrum. A lot of kids who are not even on the spectrum but simply battle with chronic shyness or low self-esteem also battle with this. Putting kids in the position of being forced to communicate with their peers in a relaxed atmosphere like regular group lessons is very helpful. Parents should do some due diligence in finding lessons for their autistic golfer – more and more academies and coaches are learning more about autism and how to coach juniors on the spectrum. This is a basic and important first step – How to Find a Coach for Your Junior Golfer.
ASD children are more visual learners. Teach the player to write down little notes and reminders like his playing partners’ names, eg. Matt – red hat. Jake – green shirt.
Junior golfers must be able to keep their own score as well as a playing partner’s score. This is exceptionally difficult for a junior golfer with autism. If he or she can be taught to make little tally marks after each shot this is a first step. They should also make sure to call out the score and confirm a partner’s score after every hole. This should be standard practice for all competitive junior golfers.
One of the most tricky thing for junior golfers with autism is often course management and on-course decision making. Anthony will from time to time have major issues making decisions on the golf course. For example he can hit multiple shots trying to get out of a steep bunker straight ahead without pausing to consider other directions or approaches to getting the ball out, or giving himself a moment to think about the shot. He can sometimes try hitting over water that would require a 200 yard carry when he can only carry 180 at best – yet still tries it 5 or 6 times. Or take 6 shots out of trees when he could have taken 1 out sideways on to the fairway and proceed from there.
Children generally use what is regarded as autobiographical episodic memory – the bank of experiences we have stored in our memory which tells us how to act and react in situations, act socially and functionally and transfer our behaviors to new situations and think and behave based on the context of the situation. The stereotypical behaviors of individuals with autism suggest they don't use their bank of experiences spontaneously and automatically in these ways.
Visual tasks and clues are vital to helping autistic children. For the junior golfer in Anthony’s position utilizing a yardage book with hazards, water and sand colored in and various personal marks like arrows and club numbers and reminders written on it are helpful. At the very least the junior should carry a sheet of paper with his club number and carry distance on it. Visual clues and reminders are helpful for anyone but imperative for a junior golfer with autism.
From a physical aspect ASD children, and certainly ones with hyper-mobility issues, will often struggle with fatigue. We consulted with Dr. Daniel Tari who we interviewed for our article on Junior Golf Physical Training. Dr. Tari was quick to point out that the exercises recommended for junior golfers in general in that article would not be recommended for the hyper-mobile junior. Hypermobility issues require an exercise regime that incorporates stability and proprioception exercises which would vary for each individual.
Going Forward with Anthony
Anthony’s parents are exceptionally supportive. They see golf as one of the positive lights in Anthony’s life and go to great lengths to help him achieve his goals and stay on top of his training with his coach. ASD kids tend often to be rather fixated on a target or course of action, and as Anthony matures they are encouraged to see a relaxation in his extreme intensity and are enjoying seeing him pick up some additional interests like creating digital house music!
England Golf has recognized a child living the struggle who can still rise above it to encourage and aid golfers with similar disabilities. Anthony has a long road ahead of him to fulfill his golfing dreams, but as he works on that he is learning and teaching life lessons to everyone he comes in contact with. Golf will no doubt be a big part of Anthony's life and we look forward to sharing more updates.
England, and the junior golf world, should be proud!